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The Third Front arrives with a bang!

Last updated on: February 05, 2014 21:58 IST

The newly-formulated Third Front left its imprint in Parliament on the opening day of the reconvened winter session when it surprised the ruling coalition by derailing the Anti-Communal Violence Bill’s Anita Katyal reports from New Delhi

The non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party Third Front made its presence felt on the opening day of the reconvened winter session of Parliament on Wednesday when all its constituents joined hands with the BJP to oppose the Anti-Communal Violence Bill in the Rajya Sabha.

Hopelessly outnumbered by the combined opposition, the United Progressive Alliance government was forced to defer the Bill.

While the BJP’s position on the Bill is well-known, the decision of the Left parties, Janata Dal-United and the Samajwadi Party to oppose the Bill was unexpected and took the treasury benches by surprise.

Third Front constituents agreed with the BJP that Parliament was not competent to legislate this law as it impinged on the rights of states, violating the country’s federal structure.

The new front’s opposition was clearly driven by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Jayalalithaa who had expressed her unhappiness over the Bill in December last year when she wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him not to move the proposed Bill in the winter session.

Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK is considered a leading member of the proposed Third Front.

CPI-M leader Prakash Karat had especially flown to Chennai last week to push for her support in the formation of a viable non-BJP, non-Congress alternative.

As a first step towards the formation of a Third Front, the Left parties, the SP, the JD-U , the Janata Dal-Secular, the AIADMK, the Biju Janata Dal, the Asom Gana Parishad and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha on Wednesday decided to work together on a “common agenda “ in both houses of Parliament.

“This is the first step after the October 23 meeting. We are aligning non-Congress, non-BJP parties in both Houses,” JD-U chief Sharad Yadav told media persons after a meeting of Third Front parties in the Parliament House complex.

The ruling alliance can expect to get the same treatment in the coming days when it tables its anti-graft Bills.

Virtually echoing Jayalalithaa’s views on this sensitive issue, JD-U spokesperson K C Tyagi told later that they objected to the manner in which the UPA government was hurriedly pushing ahead with such a sensitive piece of legislation.

“The government should have consulted all the secular parties before it decided to move the Bill,” Tyagi said, adding that it should have also called a meeting of all chief ministers to address their grievances.

“How can they pass this Bill in the last session of Parliament in such an unseemly hurry in the midst of chaos in the House,” Tyagi asked.

Jayalalithaa had raised the same arguments in her letter to the PM.  The Tamil Nadu chief minister had pointed out that since the present term of the Lok Sabha is to end in a few months, it would be undemocratic to go ahead with the Bill in a hasty manner without wide consultation amongst all political parties and stakeholders.

Talking to media persons after the Third Front’s first formal meeting on the opening day of Parliament, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury declared that this alternative formation will take up issues of concern to the common man in Parliament.

Pitching the Third Front as a truly secular formation, Yechury declared,

“Only the Third Front can promote secularism in the country. The Congress has aligned with communal forces.”

These parties, it was announced, will meet again after the Parliament session on February 21 to chalk out their joint strategy for the coming Lok Sabha elections.

They propose to draw up a common minimum programme and hold a series of nation-wide rallies in the run-up to the general election to take on both the Congress and the BJP.

Although the proposed Third Front succeeded in leaving its imprint in Parliament on Wednesday, it is still early to say if it will evolve into a viable alternative to the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance before or after the coming Lok Sabha polls.

Past experiments with regard to a Third Front have not been encouraging as these have always proved to be unstable coalitions.

Whether it was the V P Singh-led National Front, the H D Deve Gowda-led United Front or the governments headed by Chandrashekhar or  I K Gujral, none of them were able to complete their terms.  

In fact, there is an inherent element of instability in a Third Front as it is necessarily dependent for survival on a larger, mainstream party like the Congress or the BJP which, in the past, has shown no compunction in pulling the plug on the coalition government.

Although pitched as a collective of regional forces, the Third Front is not really a “rainbow coalition” given the bitter rivalry among the various political parties.

For instance, Trinamool Congress and the Left parties, who are bitter rivals in West Bengal, can never join hands at the Centre. Similarly, it is inconceivable that the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party or the DMK and AIADMK could ever come together.

Most importantly, the Third Front is at best a collective of strong regional leaders who all harbour prime ministerial ambitions. The bonhomie among the leaders of the parties who have come together could well prove to be short-lived after the elections. 

In case these parties do garner the numbers to dictate the formation of the next government, it could well lead to a bitter tussle for the Prime Minister’s post as AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa, JD-U’s Nitish Kumar, SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and BJD’s Naveen Patnaik see themselves as PM candidates. 

Anita Katyal